Rocky View Schools (RVS) has seen an increase in students opting for online learning after the return from the winter break.
At the Jan. 7 RVS Board of Trustees meeting, superintendent Greg Luterbach laid out student learning plans for the remainder of the year, for both online and in-person students.
Students in all grades returned to in-person classes on Jan. 11.
As of Nov. 23, 2020, RVS had about 700 high school students online, according to Luterbach.
During the meeting, Luterbach acknowledged the move to online learning is working well for some families, but not all.
“We understand that for some families, this is a really tough week for them,” he said. “These are their young munchkins they are not able to be at home by themselves, like maybe their high school student could be. It’s certainly impacting families' lives.”
Families were first asked to decide between in-person and online learning in August 2020. They were given the option to switch from online to in-person or vice-versa halfway through the school year. Luterbach indicated the school division is expecting to see about 950 online students for the remainder of the school year.
He noted RVS is working to establish a sense of normalcy during COVID-19. He explained using online learning has aided in students' mental health as they work through the changing realities of the pandemic.
Upon returning to school, about 3,000 youth, which accounts for 11 per cent of Rocky View Schools, opted for online learning.
He added before increased health measures were announced in November 2020, families would have had the opportunity to change their child’s education choice on Feb. 1.
However, on Nov. 30, RVS contacted families with new timelines on choosing in-person or online learning for the winter semester. The change to the deadline was necessary by the increased public health measures and the logistics of organizing students and staff, Luterbach said.
Starting Jan. 11, Grades 1 to 8/9 students have the opportunity to choose what type of learning they prefer. High school students made their choice before the Christmas break.
“What is paramount for either one of these groups, whether high school or elementary or middle, is whatever their choice ... [it is] until the end of June,” Luterbach said. “We cannot flip back and forth.”
He noted the increase in online learning will impact in-person classrooms and the allocation of staff resources. He said RVS been working hard to reduce online classroom sizes and do not anticipate having more than 35 students in a virtual classroom.
“That’s good for kids, that’s good for teaching, that’s good for all of them,” Luterbach said.
The challenging aspect of the increased demand for online learning has been engagement with students, he said, adding the division has been working to be upfront since July 2020 to reflect that more work would be given to students and there would be a synchronization of activities.
“We expect students to be fully engaged and doing homework, doing assignments and having evaluations online,” Luterbach said. “That has been happening.”
Overall, virtual learning has gone very well, he said, adding most high school student families have commented that they appreciate learning plans have become more rigorous for students compared to last year, and the hard work of teachers who are more available online in different formats.
Board Chair Fiona Gilbert noted family feedback indicated most communities are grateful and appreciate having the opportunity to choose between online and in-person learning.
“It’s a hard choice for some to have to make, but at least there’s a choice,” she said. “I think that’s important and I’m happy we’ve been able to provide that."
Ward 3 Trustee Melyssa Bowen said the recent term of online classes was easier than last spring, as students and their families were prepared based on past experience.
Bowen, who has a child in Kindergarten, said the online classes helped keep her son connected to his friends in the classroom. It has been a good experience for the family, she said, adding she appreciated the different ways teachers have found to engage with students online.
“I definitely think that parents were more prepared, knew what was coming, knew that there were expectations that were a little bit different,” she said.